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Marie Prevost (November 8, 1898 – January 21, 1937) was a Canadian-born actress of the early days of cinema. During her twenty year career, she made 121 silent and talking pictures.

Early life

Born Mary Bickford Dunn in Sarnia, Ontariomarker, she was still a child her family moved first to Denver, Coloradomarker and then later to Los Angelesmarker. While working as a secretary, she applied for and obtained an acting job at the Hollywoodmarker studio owned by Mack Sennett. Sennett, who was from a small town outside of Montrealmarker, dubbed her as the exotic "French girl", adding Dunn to his collection of bathing beauties under the stage name of Marie Prevost.

In 1919, Prevost secretly married socialite Sonny Gerke who left her after six months of marriage. Gerke's mother had forbade him to associate with Prevost because she was an actress, so he was scared to tell his mother of the marriage--and he couldn't get a divorce without revealing that he was married. Prevost, fearful of the bad publicity a divorce would cause, would stay secretly married to Gerke until 1923.

Career rise

One of her first publicly successful film roles came in the 1920 romantic film Love, Honor, and Behave, opposite another newcomer and Sennett protegé, George O'Hara. Initially cast in numerous minor comedic roles as the sexy, innocent young girl, she worked in several films for Sennett's studio until 1921 when she signed with Universal. At Universal, Irving Thalberg took an interest in Provost decided to make her a star. Thalberg ensured that she received a great deal of publicity and staged numerous publicity events. After announcing that he had selected two films for Prevost to star in, The Moonlight Follies (1921) and Kissed (1922), Thalberg sent Prevost to Coney Islandmarker where she publicly burned her bathing suit to symbolize the end of her bathing beauty days.

While at Universal, Prevost was still relegated to light comedies. After her contract expired, Jack Warner signed her to a two year contract at $1500 a week at Warner Bros. in 1922. During this time, Prevost was dating actor Kenneth Harlan. Jack Warner had also signed Harlan to a contract and cast the couple in the lead roles in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned. To publicize the film, Warner announced that the couple would marry on the film's set. The publicity stunt worked and thousands of fans sent gifts and letters to the couple. The Los Angeles Mirror got wind that Prevost's was still married to Sonny Gerke and ran a story with the headline "Marie Prevost Will be a Bigamist if She Marries Kenneth Harlan". Warner was livid over the negative publicity and Prevost's failure to disclose her first marriage despite the fact that the publicity stunt was his idea. Warner quickly arranged an annullment and, when the publicity surrounding the scandal died down, Prevost and Harlan were quietly married.

In spite of the bad publicity, Prevost's performance in The Beautiful and Damned brought good reviews. Director Ernst Lubitsch chose her for a major role opposite Adolphe Menjou in 1924's The Marriage Circle. Of her performance as the beautiful seductress, Ernst Lubitsch said that she was one of the few actresses in Hollywood who knew how to underplay comedy to achieve the maximum effect. This performance, praised by The New York Times, resulted in Lubitsch casting her in Three Women in 1924 and in Kiss Me Again the following year.

Just as her career was blossoming, Prevost's mother was killed in an automobile accident while traveling in Florida with actress Vera Steadman, another Canadian friend, and Hollywood studio owner, Al Christie in 1926.


Devastated by the loss of her only remaining parent, Prevost began drinking heavily and developed an addiction to alcohol. Her marriage to Harlan ended in a 1927 divorce. Prevost tried to get past her personal torment by burying herself in her work, starring in numerous roles as the temptingly beautiful seductress who in the end was always the honorable heroine. After seeing Prevost in The Beautiful and Damned, Howard Hughes cast her as the lead in The Racket (1928). During filming, Hughes and Prevost had a brief affair. Hughes quickly broke off the affair leaving Prevost heartbroken and furthering her depression. After playing the lead in The Racket, Prevost's days as a leading lady were over.

Prevost's depression caused her to binge on food resulting in significant weight gain. By the 1930s, she was working less and being offered only secondary parts. A notable exception was Paid (1930), a role which, while secondary to star Joan Crawford, still garnered her good reviews. As a result of all this, her financial income declined and her growing dependency on alcohol added to her weight problems. By 1934, she had no work at all and her financial situation deteriorated dramatically. The downward spiral became greatly aggravated when her weight problems forced her into repeated crash dieting in order to keep whatever bit part a movie studio offered.


On January 21, 1937, at the age of 38, Prevost died from heart failure brought on by acute alcoholism and malnutrition. Her body was not discovered until January 23, after neighbors complained about her dog's incessant barking. A bellboy, who ignored the note Prevost posted on the door asking that no one knock on the door more than once, finally forced the door open. Prevost was found lying face down on her bed, her legs marked with tiny bites. Prevost's pet dachshund, Maxie, had nipped at her legs in an attempt to wake her up.

Her funeral (which was paid for by Joan Crawford) at the Hollywood Memorial Cemeterymarker was attended by Crawford, Clark Gable, Wallace Beery, and Barbara Stanwyck among others.

In February 1937, it was discovered that Prevost's estate was valued at only $300 prompting the Hollywood community to create the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital to provide medical care for employees of the television and motion picture industry.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Marie Prevost has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 6201 Hollywood Boulevardmarker.

References in pop culture

British musician Nick Lowe retold the story of Prevost's death in his satirical song "Marie Provost" (the misspelling is Lowe's) from his 1978 album Jesus of Cool. The song's refrain: "She was a winner/That became a doggie's dinner."

Prevost and her pet are also referenced in the play Legends, wherein Carol Channing's character warns Mary Martin's that it wouldn't be safe for her to die with the dog on the premises unless it knew how to operate a can opener.

In Chuck Palahniuk's 2008 novel Snuff, Prevost's death is referenced several times, although the cause of her depression and decline in popularity are attributed to a heavy Bronx accent being revealed at the inception of movies with sound.

Selected filmography

Year Film Role Notes
Those Bitter Sweets
His Father's Footsteps
1916 Unto Those Who Sin Celeste
A Scoundrel's Toll
1917 Secrets of a Beauty Parlor
Two Crooks
1918 Her Screen Idol Billy McBride
The Village Chestnut
1919 Uncle Tom Without a Cabin Eliza
The Speakeasy
1920 Fresh from the City
Fickle Fancy
1921 Wedding Bells Out of Tune
Moonlight Follies Nan Rutledge
1922 The Dangerous Little Demon Teddy Harmon
The Married Flapper Pamela Billings
1923 Red Lights Ruth Carson
The Wanters Myra Hastings
1924 Being Respectable Valerie Winship Credited as Mary Prevost
The Lover of Camille Marie Duplessis
1925 Bobbed Hair Connemara Moore
Seven Sinners Molly Brian
1926 His Jazz Bride Gloria Gregory
Up in Mabel's Room Mabel Ainsworth
1927 Man Bait Madge Dreyer
The Girl in the Pullman Hazel Burton Alternative title: The Girl on the Train
1928 A Blonde for a Night Marie
The Rush Hour Margie Dolan
1929 The Godless Girl Mame
The Flying Fool Pat Riley
1930 Ladies of Leisure Dot Lamar
Sweethearts on Parade Nita
1931 The Good Bad Girl Trixie
The Sin of Madelon Claudet Rosalie Lebeau Alternative title: The Lullaby
1932 Slightly Married Nellie Gordon
Rock-a-Bye Cowboy Marie
1933 The Eleventh Commandment Tessie Florin
Only Yesterday Amy Uncredited
1935 Keystone Hotel Mrs. Clarabelle Sterling
Hands Across the Table Nona
1936 Thirteen Hours by Air Waitress Uncredited
Cain and Mabel Sherman's Receptionist Uncredited

See also


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